Eighth-grade English teacher Lauren LaMay recently learned of Harper Lee’s new novel “Go Set a Watchman.” Lee is the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was published in 1960. Fifty-five years later Lee is publishing a new novel. LaMay has been teaching the book to eighth graders for over 22 years and her reading it aloud is one of the offerings for the school’s 50th Anniversary celebration.
Q: When did you first read “To Kill a Mockingbird”?
A: When I was 12.
Q: What was your first impression?
A: I loved it as a story. I had a general sense about the problems in it because my family talked about them. My understanding of the racial inequality has deepened as I have matured.
Q: How many times have you read the book?
A: More than I can count but well over 100 times. I am incapable of choosing a favorite book, but “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the top five.
Q: Why do you teach the book?
A: It’s rich enough to stand the test of time against other new books. It will always be relevant, and I find that it is more relevant now than it has ever been, The same racial issues that are in the book are coming back to bite us. It also has mass appeal to eighth graders.
Q: What is the new book about?
A: From what I’ve heard, it has the same characters as “To Kill a Mockingbird” but is set in the 1950s (twenty years after the setting of “Mockingbird”). Scout is mature, and she goes back to Maycomb to visit her father, Atticus. My guess is that the civil-rights issues have moved to the civil-rights issues of the 1950s.
Q: What was your reaction when you heard of the new book?
A: Great excitement, which turned to caution because there will be so much hype about it that it will be hard for it to live up to the huge expectation. Also, I’ve heard speculation that Lee may be partly blind and deaf and may have been pressured to publish. It remains to be seen, but I am still excited.
Q: What expectations do you have for the new book?
A: I don’t really have any. Even if it doesn’t live up to other expectations, I would rather have the sequel come from Harper Lee than from someone else.
Q: Were you surprised to learn about the new novel?
A: Shocked! I never knew she wrote a book before “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was breaking TV news as I was about to leave for school.
Q: Have any former students contacted you?
A: I’ve gotten news from Facebook, emails, etc., about the new book. The students who posted on Facebook were students scattered over the past 20 years. They were excited about the new book, although some were cautious. Former students came out of the blue to contact me about the book.
Q: Might you add Lee’s new book to your curriculum?
A: We’ll see – if it is on a par with “Mockingbird” in terms of literary quality and if it will contribute significantly to the discussion of “Mockingbird.”
Q: How do you think it will compare to “Mockingbird”?
A: It will be hard to beat. There was once a conference where famous authors met and someone brought up Harper Lee. An author called her “the one book author” and another said “I would have not written any other books to have written that great one,” so it will be hard for “Go Set a Watchman” to live up to that great book. One thing I will find interesting is how Lee will portray the character Dill, if she even does.
Q: What do you think of the title?
A: I absolutely love it. Lee is 2-2 for naming novels.